The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Do you want a videogame console, but you care nothing for either PlayStation or Xbox? Or GameCube, even? Then maybe Phantom will ring your bell. It's a new game console being developed by Infinium Labs, a company down the way from me in Sarasota.

Don't count on this upstart entry making any kind of impact, though. Judging from the facts available on the company, and the general close-mouthed atmosphere, plus the basic logistics of trying to position a gaming console in the face of a market dominated by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo (even if they're aiming toward a smaller, hardcore niche), means that this puppy likely won't last a year, if it ever gets off the ground at all.

I think the lack of company commentary in the article is as much a result of Chip Carter's lack of reportage skills; digging out person-to-person information is not his forte, obviously. His generalizations could use some work too, although the editing is partly to blame too. For instance:

But Infinium is entering a field littered with companies that tried and failed to make their mark. Remember the Atari 2600? It shared the market with Mattel's Intellivision in the 1970s and early '80s.

This is an awkward statement, because it implies that the 2600 was somehow a failure. The opposite is true: The Atari 2600 (aka VCS) was arguably the most successful game console ever, having revolutionized (indeed, pretty much created) home video gaming, and staying in production from the late '70s until 1991.

I also question the "half-dozen game machines" Sega is supposed to have launched and botched. I can think of only four Sega consoles that saw American shores: Master System, Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast (in that chronological order). There was probably a portable/handheld machine in there too, that I can't recall. The Genesis was nowhere near a bust; in fact, it pretty much killed off the old Nintendo NES and ruled the roost for most of the '90s until the PS1 came along.

Anyway, regarding the Phantom... It's a nice idea, especially the move toward non-gaming applications. But really, this sounds like nothing but an Xbox with a $200 markup, and practically no major label software support. The niche gamers they're supposed to be shooting for are more enamoured with PC gaming; I don't see this new box as being enough to lure them away. Providers of customized gaming PCs can make a good go of it; another Florida-based company, Alienware, does that very well. But a console approach... I doubt it.